Today we’d like to introduce you to Stephanie Leichtle-Chalklen.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Stephanie. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
After graduating from Texas A&M University with a Master of Public Service and Administration and a Bachelor of Sociology, I was inspired to set off on my own and live in the big city. I moved to New York City with no job and few connections. Fortunately, I found work quickly and spent several years working for various international and local nonprofit organizations.
Like most New Yorkers, I had a side hustle – baking! For 2 years, I baked out of my Queens apartment and even spent a summer selling my sweets at a popular street market in East Harlem. I soon decided that I needed more formal training and switched careers to go to work in a bakery. I was fortunate to work in two French patisseries, learning from some of New York’s top pastry chefs.
At the end of 2017, my husband, who is from Johannesburg, South Africa, and I decided to pack up our tiny apartment and move across the world to Cape Town, South Africa. This is where Kuluntu Bakery began.
For many years, my vision has been to open a social enterprise bakery centered around women and the community. When we moved to Cape Town, I decided that I was ready to take steps towards this vision, and thus, Kuluntu Bakery was born. Kuluntu means “community” in isiXhosa, which is a South African language that’s widely spoken in Cape Town.
In just a few months, things started to take off, and I realized that I was on to something. After six months in Cape Town, we ultimately decided to move back to my home city of Dallas and bring the whole Kuluntu Bakery concept with us. We’ve been here in Dallas for just a year and a half and have been overwhelmed by the support for our business!
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Building your dream is never easy and the road is bound to be bumpy during certain parts of the journey. The biggest struggle was when I was getting my training in NYC and had to be up at 2 am for my 3 am bread production shift! That was physically, mentally and emotionally very challenging.
When we first moved back to Dallas, we were living with my parents while we got back on our feet. My parents, being business owners themselves, were nice enough to allow me to run Kuluntu Bakery out of their kitchen. The challenge there was that it wasn’t my space; I couldn’t take over the kitchen like I wanted to and really needed to in order to start scaling up. But it was a great place to start, and they took their role as my taste testers very seriously!
Currently, I’m working on transforming my cottage, for-profit bakery into a brick & mortar, nonprofit bakery. This is a big endeavor which I’m so excited about but is still a few years out. I really feel like I’m just getting started, so I’m sure to face many more obstacles in this wild ride!
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Kuluntu Bakery – what should we know?
Kuluntu Bakery is a cottage bakery that builds community through baking and breaking bread. We specialize in sourdough bread, desserts and South African flavors. A large component of our business is that we host communal experiences centered around food, in addition to selling our bakes. I teach baking workshops, such as an Artisan Bread Class and Naturally Leavened Pastries, and we host a South Africa supper club called Ubuntu Supper Club.
From the beginning, we’ve tried to be very authentic in how we do everything and stay rooted in South Africa and the idea of community. “Community” is a bit of a buzzword these days, but it’s something we really believe in and something that is strongly rooted in African culture, whereas American culture tends to be more rooted in individualism. We’re trying to bring people together for a shared experience. It really is a joint effort with my husband; he brings the South Africa side, and I bring the baking side. I’m proud that we are creating a business that encompasses our passions and values while staying to who we are and what we believe in.
We are currently working towards our vision of building a nonprofit bakery centered around women. We believe that bread and baked goods can be a vehicle for change; through our bakery, we will build community and create economic opportunity through a culinary training and empowerment program for women who are unjustly marginalized. This vision and our focus on social justice is what sets us apart from other businesses in the food industry.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
You know what they say — it takes a village! Without a doubt, my husband Warren is my biggest support and a huge inspiration behind the business. He helps me in countless ways and as I mentioned before, this really is a joint effort between us! I’m so thankful to have him by my side throughout all of this.
My entire family also helps and supports me so much. From my parents allowing me to start and run my business in their kitchen, to giving me business advice, attending my popups and taste testing — their support has been amazing! My siblings are equally as involved and supportive.
I’m so lucky to have an amazing group of friends who are my cheerleaders and biggest marketers! My good friend from graduate school, Taylor Hall, is our first board member, and her wisdom, encouragement, and strategic thinking have been invaluable as we plan our next steps.
- Sourdough Bread (1kg) – $8-12
- Tarts & Pies – $18-35
- Layer Cakes – starting at $40
- Website: https://kuluntubakery.com
- Phone: 469-933-4960
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kuluntubakery/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kuluntubakery/
- Other: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/stephanie-leichtle-kuluntu-bakery-17597681478